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A Quick Guide to Beta Reader Etiquette

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  • A Quick Guide to Beta Reader Etiquette by K.M. Weiland

    The 10 Rules of Beta Reader Etiquette

    by K.M. Weiland

    1. Be Honest

    You can’t be useful to fellow writers unless you’re willing to be honest with them: about the good and the bad of their stories. No, you don’t want to hurt any feelings, but just assume that any writer who asks your opinion will be big enough to handle even a negative response.

    2. Be Specific

    Generalities like, “I loved it!” or “Your plot was boring!” aren’t going to be much help. Even if you start out with only a gut feeling about the story, do your best to figure out why you liked or disliked something. Give your writer friend something concrete on which to build his revisions.

    3. Couch Criticism in Praise

    The whole point of a critique is the criticism. But be a sport and don’t be toorough on a writer’s delicate ego. Say what you gotta say about the book’s faults, but couch your criticism in praise. Whenever you can, be lavish in your comments on a bo0k’s good points. Open your critique by telling the writer what you liked best, and sum up with either a generally positive opinion or a belief that the author will be able to refine his rough draft into something good.

    4. Avoid Negative Absolutes

    Insofar as honesty allows, try to avoid negative absolutes: “This book is awful.” “I hated this character.” “Your theme is nonexistent.” Focus on the fix, rather than the problem: “I recommend using a more cheerful tone.” “What if you let this character pet a dog?” “Have you considered a theme for this story?” Even writers who want to hear all your criticism will grow resistant to accepting it if you put them on the defensive.

    5. Observe Deadlines

    Aside from the fact that most writers will be chewing their fingernails with anticipation from the moment they send you their precious manuscript, they’ve also probably got some serious deadlines to meet. So once you agree to a timeline, try your darndest to meet it. Yes, you’re doing the writer a favor, but he’s also depending on you. If you’re going to be unable to meet the deadline, always take a moment to let the writer know about the delay.

    6. Observe Standard Editing Protocol

    Make things easier for both yourself and the writer by observing standard editing protocol. Either use Word’s Track Changes to mark your comments and corrections right into the manuscript, or use standard editing symbols for marking up a hardcopy. No need to waste either the writer’s time or you own with comments he won’t be able to access or decipher.

    7. Respect the Author’s Guidelines

    If the author says she’s only looking for a general overview of the story–not a line edit–then respect that. She knows what stage her story is in and what kind of opinion will be most helpful. An unasked for line edit at too early a stage may not only end up wasting your time, but also killing the writer’s confidence in her story.

    8. Check Your Personal Agenda at the Door

    Remember: as a beta reader, you’re there to serve the writer, not the other way around. If you have a personal dislike for characters with red hair, the word “stupendous,” or rainy scenes, keep it to yourself. There’s a difference between pet peeves based on technical mistakes and pet peeves that are specific only to us and our personalities.

    9. Identify the Author’s Vision

    In the same vein as #8, your job is to help the author realize her vision for the story. It’s definitely not your job to try to impose your vision (or worldview) onto the writer’s story. If she wrote an adventure story, but you wanted a romance, don’t take it upon yourself to rewrite the genre. Do your best to figure out what type and tone of story the author is going for, and shape your comments to help her figure out where she’s falling short of her vision.

    10. Respect the Author’s Autonomy

    No matter how much effort and time you spend critiquing this story, there is no guarantee the author will make the changes you’re suggesting. Once you’ve turned over your critique, let the story go. You’ve had your say; you’ve fulfilled your duty. It’s not your responsibility to talk the writer into using all your suggestions. When the book comes out and the main character still has red hair, resist the urge to throw up your hands in frustration or write the author a scolding email.
    The 8 Rules of Etiquette in Response to Beta Readers

    1. Show Gratitude

    Taking the time to read and comment on a manuscript is a humongous favor. Never take that for granted. Even if you should get your manuscript back and end up disagreeing with every single thing the reader said, never discount the effort that went into making those comments. Always thank readers profusely and let them know you’re aware of the effort they put into trying to help you.

    2. Don’t Argue

    Upon reading some (or all) of a reader’s comments, your first instinct might be to argue. But don’t. Just… don’t. If you’re face to face with a reader, simply nod and smile as they explain their thoughts. Only challenge their opinions if you need clarification on a point, and even then make sure you do it with graciousness and humility. Try to keep any knee-jerk negative reactions simmered down to a professional, “That’s a good point. I’ll take that into consideration.”

    3. Don’t Take Offense

    Yes, you’ll occasionally run into a nasty reader with a personal axe to grind. But generally speaking, most aren’t out to get you–even when they may sound less than kind in their critiques. Give your readers the benefit of the doubt and assume they just want to help you. Even if they’re dead wrong about your story, don’t take offense. This isn’t personal. It’s business.

    4. Give the Edit Some Time

    Most of us need a little time to process a critique–especially if it’s harsher than we expected. Before outright rejecting a reader’s critique, always give yourself a week or so to process the comments. Step away from the manuscript and just let those initial emotions brew for a while. When you’ve cleared your head, come back to the critique and evaluate the true worth of the reader’s offerings.

    5. Remember the “Two People Have to Agree” Rule

    Just as you shouldn’t outright reject your reader’s offerings, you also shouldn’t swallow everything they say. My personal rule is that “two people have to agree” on a change before I’ll make it. One of those people can be me: if I immediately recognize the worth of a readers suggestion, obviously I’ll go ahead and make the change. But if I don’t agree, I’ll put the comment on the back burner, where it will stay until another reader or editor makes the same comment. If that happens, then I know I have to reevaluate my initial gut feeling.

    6. Respect the Reader’s Time

    The reader is giving you the gift of many, many hours of his time. You’d be paying a professional editor thousands of dollars to be doing what your is doing for free (probable discrepancies in knowledge and skill aside). Respect that gift. Don’t ask readers to adhere to impossibly tight schedules, and once you’ve agreed upon a reasonable deadline, don’t pester the reader with requests for progress updates. Only after the deadline has come and gone without response from the reader should you send him a gentle email, asking if he’s had time to look at your book.

    7. Don’t Request Brainstorming Assistance

    A reader isn’t necessarily a brainstorming buddy. Brainstorming requires almost as much time and effort as critiquing, so don’t assume that just because someone agreed to read your manuscript he’ll also want to help you name characters and figure out how to fill plot holes. Pointing out the holes was his job; filling them is yours.

    8. Return the Favor

    It’s an unspoken rule in the writing world that if you receive a critique, you should also be willing to give one. Offer upfront to return the favor, and when that favor gets called in, do your best to promptly, kindly, and professionally fulfill the duties of the reader every bit as well as you’d like to have them fulfilled for you.

    See http://www.helpingwritersbecomeautho...der-etiquette/ for full article.
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